Case of Scrapie in Skagafjörður

Vala Hafstað

The Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority, MAST, announced Friday night that a case of scrapie had been confirmed in a sheep on the farm Syðra-Skörðugil in Skagafjörður, North Iceland, mbl.is reports. There are 1,500 sheep on the farm, including lambs. This is the second time Syðra-Skörðugil is hit by a case of the disease, for 30 years ago, a case on the farm was confirmed. The extent of the spread of the disease is being assessed.

Scrapie is a fatal, neurodegenerative disease that affects sheep. It is caused by a prion. The disease, which affects the sheep’s brain, does not appear to be transmissible to humans. It was carried to Iceland in 1878 with an English ram, transported from Denmark to Skagafjörður.

In October of 2020, a case of scrapie was confirmed on another farm in Skagafjörður that belongs to the same disease prevention area, and last year, the disease was confirmed on five farms on the eastern side of Skagafjörður, which belong to a different disease prevention area.

According to britannica.com, “Scrapie has a long incubation time, typically between about 18 months and five years following transmission. The first signs to arise are usually behavioral changes such as general apprehensiveness and nervousness. As the disease progresses, the animal loses weight and weakens, develops head and neck tremors, loses muscular coordination, and begins to rub or scrape its body against objects, wearing away its fleece or hair—hence the name ‘scrapie.’ The disease inevitably causes death within one to six months. No treatment or palliative measures are known.”

The farm Syðra-Skörðugil was the most productive farm in Skagafjörður last year. “It will take me many, many years to build up another herd like this,” states farmer Elvar Eylert Einarsson.

Typically, when a case of scrapie comes up, all the sheep at the relevant farm need to be slaughtered to prevent further spread of the disease, so the damage is always substantial.

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